What I have Learned in Navel Cupping
What is available to us in the West from the past in Chinese medical traditions can be tricky. What is being taught often is not all there was. Many healers and teachers thankfully had the means to move themselves away from China as it was going through modernisation and some have left their teachings for us. and their culture, setting up in other parts of the world, as did Dr John Shen.
I have been using aspects of his work for decades now – I watched him lecturing several times in Sydney and in Brisbane in 1981/2 and realized that there was a master – and I wrote down, and absorbed everything I could. Time went by and I used all that I could remember him doing.
He was a herbalist who used needles on the side occasionally it seemed. His legacy was a set of notes after presentation to the UK audience in the very early 1980’s and the pulse system that Dr Leon Hammer played with and wrote his books with reference to.
Dr Shen’s organ system and general model is missing from this however. He spent all his life working on something that is not written down and this tiny piece is my contribution to his memory.
Finding Cold In The Belly Stored Away
– Navel Cupping
One of the more amazing tricks he told us about was cupping the navel to release the cold stored anywhere in the body. Whilst this was something that was done at home prior to consulting anyone professional, much like our Anglo grandmothers may have wrapped some camphor in red flannel and placed it over our thymus glands – it worked – just as the red flannel probably did.
These ‘old wives’ tales’ are lost in time as we all became slaves to the new ways of thinking. Here I am, adding value as someone who has been doing profound things with just this.
A Note From Heather
Through spending the last year or so really paying attention to this – as I was asked several years ago to write a professional journal article on this and thought – how is it possible – as there IS not written backup – as our profession has taken to being academic in our journals rather than being practice based.
I started my own research with tongue photos before and after, and with paying attention – regardless of the condition – the first thing to do is to remove the cold and let the Yang work again – then review if anything else is even needed. This has a very profound effect on all.
Up till then I was the ‘moxa queen’ – and whilst the Shen calming was happening, so too was rebuilding the Ki Yang on all – but then – why not take it back further? All very well to heat then up – but what if the cold is still there? And it usually is.
What Are We Doing?
In spending any time in assisting someone, hopefully the first premise is that we do no harm.
Working with the principles of doing no further harm, we need to be mindful of what we are always doing whilst apparently acting therapeutically. This possibly sets the average from the very good practitioner.
Possibly that which we are not doing is checking to see what is going on with a body BEFORE we make a ‘diagnosis’. We could take into account the fact that this person in from of us has had a life – that they may be living in an emotional breaking point/crisis.
You may well have seen me teach or write this elsewhere.
This is where we need to be starting in treatment:
- Why is the body not doing it itself?
- We would not be needed if the body was healing itself – and it isn’t – so why not?
To answer this question, we need to know:
- HOW the body repairs itself,
- HOW it looks when it is doing this (so inflammation/fever is often a good sign . . .) and
- WHAT TO DO to assist the body to take charge again.
Not to do it all – but to set it up so it works autonomously again.
Even before this:
- is the spirit at home?
- Is the driver engaged?
The importance of Shen in prognosis is not often mentioned, but is invaluable – is the person happy and wanting to still be even on the planet? Having an unengaged person and trying to turn around hopelessness is far more useful than being a text book perfect treatment for whatever bit they present as being ill and in need of a ’fix’.What is really going on is hardly seen if we have gone ahead full of what we should be doing – and how to do it right . .
So when teaching over the past nearly 40 years I have always stressed the importance of calming the Shen – and I am heartened to see that this is now filtering into the work of those who previously have been so TCM and biomedical minded. We are all humans and especially as women we are watery, and we feel, and this leaks into all that is ‘wrong’ and ‘right’ with us.
Maybe the first SIX treatment sessions – all you do – is Calm the Shen – the rest is easy as the body then is able to do the job itself.
We all get in our own way. Getting the mind and the personality and the little will out of the picture then usually allows the mammalian blueprint to reassert itself.
But even before this (mostly) – I ensure that the Yang can actually circulate.
If the belly is at all cool to touch I cup the cold out – and that may be ALL that is done that day. I now use a non contact Digitech thermometer to show people the differences on their own bodies – and what we may need to do to undo these.
Why are we cupping the navel?
Time homoured – and it works – every time . .
There is cold there – and often it may have been squirreled away for decades.
It is causing deep distress to the Yang as it needs to be kept out of general circulation.
(We teach first year students that cold wastes Yang).
I have included many different case histories to show the depth and breadth of application.
What I have learned in Navel Cupping
1- It is a very powerful treatment.
The reason being – if you have cold trapped – the Yang is unavailable for what it should be doing – as it HAS to keep the cold from circulating. This keeps a lot of the person OUT of circulation and in itself may be all you need to do – free it up. Maybe not a TCM or an elegant explanation – but especially in everyone who these days is being iced therapeutically, and those who get small increments of cold invading them all through over their lives.
Living in Australia, where no one seems to have common sense about sleeping under fans etc, and the amazing mess women are getting into from having ice packs on their just-birthed perineums and engorged breasts . .. this all bodes well for repeat business for ages to come.
I am still drawing out cold from one lass who had the cold packs on for her haemorrhoids post birth – even though I said not to, and even though she was a uni trained acupuncturist herself – but not trained to think about causation . . . (Causes of disease – is this not still taught???)
One old guy I treated in NZ was used to going outside walking in the frozen grass to freeze his feet maybe for 30 minutes . . . before trying to get to sleep before their fieriness stopped him from sleeping. (Another symptom that is not getting air play is hot feet at night – I have covered this in the fertility markers series).
The cold in his body (separate to the fishing in glacier-fed waters and everything else he did in the wilds of the west coast of NZ) meant that his really painful feet/back and frigid belly (ascites) all had to be treated secondarily to the cold that he had put in there . .. . When I released the cold, (cupping navel, followed by much moxa on needles) his tingling, and aching feet and very dry red tongue were also relieved.
As with many people he had (over) lived in his body. We don’t see the pristine text version but real life – and the broken and damaged toes/bones from a life of international rugby also played a part – as did the bike vs bus war/incident/accident he lost in when 12 years old).
Explanation – The red tongue in a lot of people may just mean fluids not circulating. I used a lot of real moxa on him. He thought I was mad as he had very hot itchy rashes – but HIS lack of circulation was addressed by the use of real moxa and everything that upset him then subsided.
BUT before you moxa you have to get the cold out. . . .
How do you know it is there?
Take temperatures – it is so obvious to all then
Look at the tongue and you will maybe see purple and maybe a flabby pale tongue – but usually a deep red one is also cold – nothing circulating – so the tongue alone is not your friend.
Palpation – Possibly you could flip the patient over and see the cold there in the Tai Yang division – the palmar influence – the lines from YOUR palm still there after you withdraw your hand from their back. Also pressing very firmly on Bl 12 and around the Hwa Tou points around the lung area you may find tenderness – sedate.
With the great blanching and purpling on the upper back – I still do the navel cupping first and then see if the scraping and cupping on back are still needed. Often they are not.
How Does This Work?
I thought this through and remembered that CV 8 is the rescue-yang point – especially when from drowning . . . and as the crucial hub of our existence – the before-heaven existence within our mothers – hence the source of our initial life – I think starting here is appropriate.
If the person is unable to cope with anything around their navel – you are looking at placental trauma. I have some remedies a vibrational healer channeled for birth trauma. Whilst this may seem out of place – if you go further into what Dr Shen was teaching – and see the ‘cardiac’ upsets I have made available then it is very obvious.
This is also why I spent the resources on the What Dads Can Do kit (eBook available here ) – and all the work I have out into midwife and doula training – we have to start seeing a big picture here and deal with PREVENTION rather than the knee jerk little bits we can get seduced into.
Dr Shen said that cold lodged in the stomach, the uterus and the intestines.
I suspect he assumed that we knew that it lodged also in the joints and the Tai Yang division – he was speaking only of organs at the time. Cold definitely also sits in the skin and can be all that is needed to move when looking at Bells Palsy (major therapeutic intervention – cupping the navel). See here for more. It is the lazy therapists dream – as we just leave the body to do what it does and we can take a rest whilst it does this.
We can sometimes forget that cold lodges forever and that the layers need peeling off and that needling – esp the TCM idea that “this point does that” is not what the masters had in mind, and definitely not what good clinicians would do…. .
It just may be all that is being put out there as ‘best practice’ /being published at present . .
2) As it is powerful – we have the capacity to do harm also.
So please follow instructions – they are there as a guide written by someone who has been using this for over 25 years in her own clinic.
- Warm the cup you are going to use – and I mean by immersing it in hot water and then drying it. The Pyrex carries cold energy well and it is a very likely thing when the pores are opened whilst using this you can get more cold to lodge in.
- Be mindful of how they are feeling – it may be warm to you – but your core is not under assault as you have just done to them.
- Cover them with towels and check often how they are. Clinic ambient temperature needs to be respectful of their vulnerable state.
- Leave tissues handy as sometimes all emotions arise – and tell them the sorts of things that may happen.
- Offer warmed water all through – this gets the lymph flowing.
What Usually Does Happen?
1) A feeling of very alarming suction under the cup immediately can give way to a sensation of drawing from directly under the cup – and this location changes , waxing and waning over time – to be coming from anywhere in the body.
2) Sometimes almost immediately the feeling you felt of cold when touching them somewhere on their belly just gets SO MUCH colder – and often this then takes ages to dissipate. I have not left a cup on for over an hour – but occasionally almost, as it has taken that long to get the chilliness out of the belly surface.
3) From anywhere there will be tingling/alterations of perception – and it is happening (they are not imagining this) and it is safe and it is perfectly normal – and is why you are doing this.
4) Their circulation may be obviously improved – their hands and feet may warm up.
5) Sometimes a very urgent need to go to the loo – as the yang when freed up all of a sudden notices the fluids to be processed. . . (This is very likely).
6) They will feel more peaceful and relaxed – and often just drift off to sleep.
Along the way you will see changes in their tongue, complexion and any points you have used as markers to palpate will be less sore. I have never burnt anyone doing this.
You MUST cover the navel with the cup when doing this.
You must check on them to see that they are not distressed and that the cup is still required. I come back about 3 minutes after they think that it is finished – as often it starts up elsewhere again. Like layers, or as one woman described it – different rooms being vacuumed out.
For those who freak out
Some do. It may be that their pain threshold is very low.
Women straight after birth often need this in Brisbane as the hospital’s best practice is to use ice on engorged breasts after the swelling perineum has been iced unmercifully.
The collection of cold in the highly vulnerable woman’s body does do instant damage and sometimes when following up from birthing I am faced with a freezing belly – and the moxa or needles I would use are so secondary to trying to get the cold out.
If this is the case even a light cupping (make sure the flame is not too great or ensure a weak suction when putting the cup on). The overly stretched skin is also not up for this – so it can be done – but sensitively. The results are worth it.
The closest to birth I have done this is one week later – and it was totally needed as she had had her engorged breasts were totally encased/engulfed in previously saturated disposable nappies placed in the freezer. By the hospital midwife: Iatrogenesis.
For others – you may have the cup on too tightly and it is possible to very gently lift the seal a little. Bearable is what is need.
To assist here as soon as I have it on, and I see a look of alarm, I scratch their body with my fingernails and pull their hair explaining as I do that I am distracting their pain sensors – much like I suspect the water in birth pools does to birthing women.
Usually this and sitting telling them funny stories or getting then to read something (I often give them the cold invasion section of the What Dads Can Do book to browse). They can then see why it is happening/how important it is in their recovery.
I gave also written an eBook Your Metabolism & Cold – How it Prevents Healing that is available. This goes through various cases and how cold is NOT appropriate and what to do to help yourself instead of ice and when it has been used.
Some have placental trauma. To understand more on this please search the internet for ‘physiological third stage’ and anything written on the subject by Dr Sarah J Buckley or Michel Odent. Both have their own websites and both validate well what Dr Shen also found through his lifework of patient, patient observation. I use vibrational remedies here – and the rescue remedy or some other trauma antidote is totally appropriate.
Instead As They Just Can’t Stand It ..
Unfortunately there IS no other way I have found to do what cupping the navel does. Using a heat lamp or a moxa box is of no continued benefit – so they may feel better at the time . . . Sitting on the perineal steamer also does not remove the stored cold.
What to do if when you take the cup off there is still (or now there is) an area of very icy skin around the navel – put their hand on it and reach for the warmed salt (in a tissue on your person just in case is best).
I initially placed a small pyramid of very coarse moxa on a piece of sliced ginger (covering it almost to the edge) and burn it until it has finished smoking, leaving a little volcano of ash. This was placed on the salt on the navel and eventually moved up and down if getting too hot to bear. I do at least 3 peaks of these – and often more; depending on how much colour returns to their complexion and tongue and how they are feeling.
I wised up and had the moxa burn outside till only embers – that works stunningly. Now so very sensitive to even touching moxa wool – I cannot do this. Treatments are not as good without.
In the same treatment, I may then start using the ginger moxa on either general Yang and gut tonic points – or go straight (as in the case of the chronic shoulder problem) to the damaged area. Often you have done quite enough for that day. This is a very profound treatment.
Strengthen the Yang
I usually then moxa the sacral fan and GV 4, Bl 23 as a tonic to ensure what has been removed is strengthened so it is less likely to happen again. The ginger seems to make all the difference. Again – I am NOT speaking of smokeless moxa – that is NOT useful enough.
- First – clear the cold
- Next tonify the Yang and source
- Then work on what they thought they were seeing you for.
Briefly (Late September 2019) I have made the navel cupping course free
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The Foundational Moves give you this process on a real person – and so much more – including odd moxa uses and all the lymph moves I have developed over time to clear damp/phlegm and thus of course pain and why it is there.
What one acupuncturist said about the initial course in this bundle . . .
Heather is humorous, caring and light hearted in the way she teaches. I sense I am reconnecting on the common sense wisdom of the elders. My acupuncture schooling was barely hands on, believe it or not. Mostly about theory and where to put the needle. But how to work with lymph, qi, emotion and feeling – those are missing link that Heather reintroduces.
A lot of the power of our medicine seems to be getting lost in intellectual based information, techniques and theories. We can often forget the basics of what it means to live as a healthy, integrated human being. We are embodied, and touch is vitally important. Simple things like how we think, what we eat, and how we move, are often over looked. A lot of what is in this course I will share with my patients. There are great graphics and posters which I can put out in my clinic and print off for patients as home work.
The more my patients can reconnect with their own bodies, at home, the better they’ll get. Working through the exercises myself, just while watching the course modules, i can feel the difference in my body. More relaxed, more integrated, more flowing, and more joyful. Thank you.
Acupuncturists, this is a really great resource to help your patients (and yourself) reconnect with their bodies, without needles.
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Take out what is not supposed to be there – so the blueprint can work!